Creating new insight into HIV-AIDS virus wins Canada's top student biotech prize

Research by a 16-year-old Ottawa-area student that contributes new insights into the workings of the HIV-AIDS virus has earned top prize in the 2006 National sanofi-aventis biotech challenge, announced today in a ceremony at the National Research Council.

Grade 11 student James McLeod bested 12 fellow regional finalists from across Canada with a study into how the HIV/AIDS virus attacks specific cells in the body's immune system.

In addition to James McLeod of Kanata (1st prize, $5,000), the top prizes went to David Wang of London (2nd place, $4,000), Kartik Madiraju of Montreal (3rd place, $3,000) Philip Edgcumbe and Maxim Winther of Vancouver (4th place, $2,000) and Emily Cooley of Calgary (5th place, $1,000).

London's David Wang and Marzieh Ghiasi of Halifax tied for a special prize recognizing research with the greatest commercial potential.

David genetically engineered tobacco plants to produce human interleukin 13, an anti?inflammatory protein with the potential to prevent or treat juvenile diabetes. Marzieh's research revealed how certain bacteria could be used to remove arsenic from drinking water. Both won a special $1,000 honorarium.

McLeod won the $5,000 top Canadian prize after a cross-country series of student presentations via videoconference yesterday to a panel of seven distinguished scientists at the National Research Council in Ottawa.

Understanding how the HIV-AIDS virus attacks the body's immune system

Necessity may be the mother of invention but curiosity is surely a close relative. It was last year in a Grade 10 health class discussion about the HIV-AIDS virus that curiosity got the better of James McLeod.

"Our teacher was explaining how the virus attacks specific cells in the body's immune system," James, 16, recalls. "I remember thinking about that process and wondering why it happens. My teacher loaned me some university textbooks and it all just developed from there."

Contact: Terry Collins
Canadian Biotechnology Education Resource Centre

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